What would it look like to go light and leave your smartphone behind? Is life without your smartphone even possible? What if someone needs to reach you in an emergency? There is a solution, the Light Phone! On this episode, you’ll hear from Light co-founder, Joe Hollier. In his conversation with Roy, Joe opens up about the first Light Phone, why they decided to launch the Light Phone 2, making the switch from crowdfunding on Kickstarter to Indiegogo, plans for the future, and much more! 

Developing a minimalist cell phone.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have a more minimalist cell phone experience, leaving your smartphone behind? Where would you even start to develop a phone that embraces a “go light” mentality? On this episode, you’ll hear from entrepreneur and innovator Joe Hollier as he explains how he and his partner, Kaiwei Tang developed the Light Phone. At first, it all started with creating a cell phone that could do one thing, make and receive phone calls. From there, Joe and Kaiwei field tested their product with a select few users who had to take that great leap from smartphone users to Light Phone users. To hear how the whole development process played out, make sure to listen to this engaging episode!

Why bring the “Go Light” movement to crowdfunding?

What led Joe Hollier and his team at Light take the “Go Light” movement to the crowdfunding community? How is the crowdfunding community uniquely suited to test out an innovative product like the Light Phone? Due to the out of the box nature of the Light Phone, Joe and his team decided to take their product to the crowdfunding community because of their reputation for embracing cutting-edge ideas that push the envelope. Through crowdfunding, Light was able to secure enough funding to move forward with the first version of the Light Phone and felt confident enough in its success to return with a campaign for the Light Phone 2. Learn more on this exciting episode!

How an active press campaign helped fan the flames.  

One of the best ways to get a crowdfunded campaign off of the ground is to invest your time and resources into press engagement. While it’s true that some products just happen to take off better than others, it seems that more often than not, campaigns that catch on do so because of good press coverage. Looking back, Joe and his team have identified their efforts with press engagement as one of the most important aspects of their success. Find out how Joe Hollier and his team engaged the press and helped them see the unique offering of the Light Phone by listening to this informative episode!

Switching from Kickstarter to Indiegogo.

How would it impact a crowdfunding campaign to switch from Kickstarter to Indiegogo between product versions? Which one provides the best results? Are there any drawbacks to making a change like that? On this episode, you’ll hear from Joe Hollier as he explains why he and his team at Light switched to Indiegogo for their second campaign with the Light Phone. Joe and his team opted for Indiegogo the second time around due to the support and resources that platform provides for startups. Joe also cites the way that Indiegogo organizes perks for backers as another reason why Light made the switch to use a different platform. Hear more about Joe’s experience working with Indiegogo over Kickstarter by listening to this helpful episode!

Key Takeaways

  • [1:04] Joe Hollier joins the podcast to talk about his product, the Light Phone 2.
  • [5:30] What was the process of developing the first Light Phone?
  • [8:30] Why did Joe and his partner decide to go the crowdfunding route?
  • [11:00] Making the switch from Kickstarter to IndieGoGo.
  • [12:30] How connecting with the press has helped fan the flames.
  • [13:30] Advice for future crowdfunders and surprises faced along the way.
  • [15:00] Connecting with backers and incorporating their feedback.
  • [16:00] Delivering on promises.
  • [17:30] Plans for future projects.
  • [18:30] Joe enters the Launch Round.
  • [20:30] Why you should check out the Light Phone.


Connect With Light


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Connect With the Art Of The Kickstart team


View this episode’s transcript

Roy Morejon:                   Welcome to Art of the Kickstart, your source for crowdfunding campaign success. I’m your host, Roy Morejon, President of Enventys Partners, the top full-service turnkey product development and crowdfunding marketing agency in the world.

Roy Morejon:                   We have helped startups raise over $100 million for our clients since 2010. Each week, I’ll interview a crowdfunding success story, an inspirational entrepreneur, or a business expert in order to help you take your startup to the next level with crowdfunding.

Roy Morejon:                   Art of the Kickstart is honored to be sponsored by BackerKit and the Gadget Flow. BackerKit makes software that crowdfunding project creators use to survey backers, organize data, and manage orders for fulfillment by automating your operations and helping you print and ship faster. The Gadget Flow is a product discovery platform that helps you discover, save, and buy awesome products. It is the ultimate buyer’s guide for luxury gadgets and creative gifts.

Roy Morejon:                   Now, let’s get on with the show.

Roy Morejon:                  Welcome to another edition of Art of the Kickstart. Today, I am joined with the co-founder of The Light Phone, Joe Hollier. Joe, thanks so much for joining us today.

Joe Hollier:                      Thanks for having me. It’s a pleasure.

Roy Morejon:                   I really love this idea. Obviously, with the world going crazy with their smartphones and everything, you guys intentionally built and designed a phone to be used as little as possible. Let’s take a trip back to when you ran your first crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter for The Light Phone version one that it could only send and receive calls. Where did this idea start? What inspired you guys to create The Light Phone? Go on to talk about how you guys migrated that into adding additional features into The Light Phone II.

Joe Hollier:                       Totally. I guess, to step back, that campaign happened in May of 2015, but Kaiwei and I actually met September 2014. It was inside of a Google-sponsored incubator, an experiment that came out of the Google Cave Lab that was if we give designers some guidance and resources, would they not create a new kind of technology startups? They’re really interested in us building our own smartphone apps and they were teaching us on a deeper level how and why some of the various apps were being built and funded.

Joe Hollier:                       For Kai and I, we learned on a much deeper level just some of the business models and how they affected the smartphone experience. Something we learned was that retention, how many hours a day does a user spend looking at product, was a critical metric for a lot of these startups. They would engineer the products to really keep people hooked because the business models were around offering a free service that could be infinitely scalable and to sell ads and collect data. Then, as you know, that aspect is known but definitely creeped us out. But then, we saw every app claiming to make the world a better place and we thought, “Could being any more connected possibly make us any happier?”

Joe Hollier:                       We were already feeling personally habitually overwhelmed and everyone we talked to shared that sentiment. We thought about a lot of things, but our initial experience with the internet was a big inspiration, which there was a really clear divide when you were online and offline, when the internet truly lived just in a computer connected with a modem. We thought, “What if we were able to give that same on-off choice to users with the smartphones to be able to go away, maybe put up an away message, and unplug for a couple of hours here and there but without necessarily going back for good? It’ll just be a nice way to disconnect for a couple of hours.” That was really how the initial Light Phone idea came to be, as a casual second phone, like how we have different shoes for different occasions. The Light Phone was a way for us to unplug to do the things that we like the most but still have that lifeline, a phone call.

Joe Hollier:                        I don’t think anyone would disagree that having a phone for just the emergency safe alone is an important thing. We went to that program and we prototyped the idea, both on a hardware level but also just on the conceptual level by giving users flip phones and simulating the experience that we’ve since coined “going light” because The Light Phone really does represent an experience. That’s why we coined the philosophy “designed to be used as little as possible” because it’s not about what The Light Phone is capable of doing in terms of any sort of features. It’s about making The Light Phone as invisible as possible so that those things that I’m doing with my life, those people that I’m sharing that time with, that’s really the focus of the going light experience.

Roy Morejon:                    Three years later, you guys have shipped, what, over 10,000 phones now for The Light Phone version one?

Joe Hollier:                        Yup, that is correct. To over, I believe, 50 different countries, so it really was a universal phenomenon that we experienced, not limited to any demographic or geographic limitation.

Roy Morejon:                    When you guys decided to go super light, let’s say, on version one, what was the process there in terms of creating the product and deciding what features to include or, more or less, what features not to include in that process?

Joe Hollier:                        We started with what we considered the bare minimum, just phone calls. Like I said, we did this little user testing project where we gave about a dozen people flip phones. We provided them a way to turn on and off call forwarding to those flip phones so that they could simulate what The Light Phone experience might look like. We learned a few things. One, there’s this initial anxiety when you go light. It’s really not just perfect out of the gate. You really feel some sort of withdrawal, which I think speaks to the power of The Light Phone. But, after you’re able to cross that wall of FOMO, so to speak, it really became a magical experience. But, what we learned was when we looked at the phones and studied the history, although these users had a wonderful time, some described it as the most relaxing weekend they’ve ever had. Just on these short trips, no one actually made any phone calls, but it taught us that the value of whatever we were building wasn’t in any sort of feature.

Joe Hollier:                        But, it was really about, “How can we get the user comfortably away from the smartphone and make that experience special?” Out of that was born the philosophy “designed to be used as little as possible”, and we tried to apply that to all aspects of the experience from the form factor being the size of a credit card. We said, “What would be the most invisible form factor, what is it that we all carry on our bodies all the time?” Be it a credit card or a form of ID that will be in place to put your Light Phone, whether it’s yoga pants or maybe a backpacking trip. There’ll always be a place and, then, the interfacing is stripped down to just the keypad. We really used that “designed to be used as little as possible” philosophy throughout the entire experience.

Roy Morejon:                    Joe, you and Kai, have you ever developed a product before or is this your first foray into product development?

Joe Hollier:                        This was my first product in a very technical sense. I’m a traditional graphic designer, I owned a skateboard company prior to this, but I’d never built anything, especially in the hardware space. Kaiwei, however, prior to joining the Google program with me, he had actually worked on phone products as a project lead for, I believe, over a decade.

Roy Morejon:                    That’s certainly helped obviously the learning curve of product development, setting all of that up, and getting it done properly to deliver a phone as promised.

Joe Hollier:                        Completely, yeah. Kaiwei brought so much expertise, experience, as well as just connections within the telecom space that I can confidently say it would not be possible without.

Roy Morejon:                    Let’s talk about the crowdfunding campaign version one for The Light Phone I. How much time did you guys spend preparing for that original campaign and how did you know that running a crowdfunding campaign was gonna be the best way to launch your product out there?

Joe Hollier:                        Yeah, so we were looking … when we were working on this program, we were, more or less, completely focused on The Light Phone for about a school year worth of time, from September to May. But, really, in preparing for that particular campaign, it was about one month that we really started combining the assets and getting ready to launch that campaign. I think we realized that it had to go the crowdfunding route because, in the nature of the program, we were meeting with a ton of investors and just general technology thought leaders. We got some great validation about our idea, but I think we realized that it was so out of the ordinary for the general trajectory of where the technology space was going that we weren’t going to be able to find enough investment without seriously proving that people might want this idea. I think we reached the point where we didn’t pay our self.

Joe Hollier:                        We were both strapped and it was like, “We need to launch this and really show that the world is interested if we’re actually to bring this thing to life.” I think that the Kickstarter really became that, oh, dare I say, judgment day for [inaudible 00:09:46] the project.

Roy Morejon:                    We always talk a lot about how the month or two leading up launch and how important it is. What were some of the things that you did pre-campaign for version one that you did differently for version two now?

Joe Hollier:                        Pre-campaign for version one, we really didn’t have a ton of press contacts. We had made a press release, but we really tried to gather allies within our worlds of design, so speaking to mentors and people that we admired, either ex-teachers sometimes or sometimes people that we had just invited and were cold-calling. We would not just ask them to share our idea in a selfish way but actually to meet with them for coffee and try to get some feedback. Then, when it came time to launch, it was a little bit more naturally. They were rooting for us, so we’re able to get a lot of natural support within the design community so that when we launched, we had some people really backing us from day one.

Roy Morejon:                    Interesting. Your first campaign, you guys launched on Kickstarter. Your second campaign, you guys launched on Indiegogo. What was the decision process there?

Joe Hollier:                        There’s a variety of factors when it came to the second phone’s launch. We were speaking to both platforms actually quite closely, but Indiegogo seemed to be able to offer us more support. As a super small team without our own press resources, that was super helpful, just being able to … they did some user testing with us. We were able to run our campaign by strangers and really see what someone who has never heard of the project was able to understand from our campaign. We were able to optimize what some of the resources as well as on the backend some of the ways that they organized the perks made a little bit more sense for our internal operations. It was a close decision, but I think we ultimately chose the Indiegogo platform because of its backend support.

Roy Morejon:                    Do you think you would’ve raised as much on Kickstarter?

Joe Hollier:                        I do. I think, for the most part, it’s really about what you bring to the campaign in terms of what I was able to get. For us, it tends to be a very press-driven campaign, so I think those articles would’ve been written regardless of it was Indiegogo or Kickstarter. I have a feeling that it probably would’ve raised similar funds.

Roy Morejon:                    With all of the marketing efforts that you put forth into both your projects, where do you think you saw the biggest return on investment?

Joe Hollier:                        It was definitely in terms of press.

Roy Morejon:                    Would you say there was one press outlet or a couple that drove the most traffic or sales?

Joe Hollier:                        For the original campaign, it was very clearly a TechCrunch article that launched about one week after the campaign launched. That article not only took us over our campaign’s goal, but it also snowballed into dozens of other articles from similar publications that had heard about it on TechCrunch. Now, we saw a little blurb on time.com and ABC.com, so it really helped spread the message out amongst a much larger audience. The second time around, there was a lot of really good press, but it was harder to pinpoint it to one specific article that really pushed us over the edge.

Roy Morejon:                    Interesting. What tips would you have for someone else looking to crowdfund their tech product like yours?

Joe Hollier:                        I really think that getting as much feedback and connections but really from the aspect of feedback from people that you admire that are potentially working in that space because they’ll be the best evangelists that you can have to support your project, being able to find an interesting way, not just in a selfish way, to reach out to these people to get some feedback about your idea. Then, you may end up bringing them on as evangelists and they’d be the first ones to tweet about your project on day one or that might be the validation that the press needs to say, “Oh, wow, this is an interesting project in the space.”

Roy Morejon:                    What was the biggest surprise that you had in either campaign?

Joe Hollier:                        Especially in the first campaign, I think it had to do with the overall reach. I think Kaiwei and I were naïve in thinking that it would be very much a demographic similar to us and big cities here in the US to hear from a variety of people across all demographics all around the world. I think, our original campaign, we got backers from 72 different countries, so I think that universal reach just really blew our mind to see just how big this problem actually was.

Roy Morejon:                    Let’s talk a little bit about your experience with your backers. How much feedback have you gotten, how have you gone about managing that? Then, how have you gone about talking with these customers or these backers in terms of the products that you’re bringing to life now?

Joe Hollier:                        The community is really the best thing that you can get out of a crowdfunding campaign. For example, with the second launch, we’ve really tried our best to engage with the users through a variety of surveys so that we’re not just making assumptions about what we think the users will want exactly in the phone, but it’s helping us to prioritize our development decisions exactly over where their priorities lie as our future users. I think they respect that relationship a lot. Being heard is a great feeling, so it’s a win-win. We’re showing them that we’re listening and they’re feeling respected by us in the loop as well as we’re gaining valuable insights that are turning into tangible development tasks. It’s been a really interesting way to bring them in to that design process. I think, on the original phone, we used them less in the initial design process. We learned from that mistake. After launching, we were really listening closely to the feedback and I think that feedbacks would ultimately decided or, at least, inspired us to launch the second campaign.

Roy Morejon:                    What challenges do you anticipate now that you guys have overfunded your second campaign by so much?

Joe Hollier:                        I think anyone working in the hardware space knows that there’s no real such thing as over-funding. There’s so many enormous costs, but it’s really about, I guess, prioritizing and making sure that we deliver exactly as promised and to be really smart with those resources because we’re definitely in a much more comfortable situation. But, there’s a lot of unexpected cost and the second Light Phone is a much more ambitious project. It’s really about being conservative with those funds and staying razor-sharp to the goal, to the original goal. As you launch these campaigns, you’ll see lots of users say, “Well, if only it had this … “, “If only it had this … ” As a project owner, you want so badly to make the product work to a wider audience that sometimes you can dilute your idea or spread yourself too thin and not be able to execute properly. To stay focused and to know when to tell someone, “Well, actually, this phone might not be suitable for your needs”, instead of trying to make it a phone for everyone, to really focus on what we know how to do best.

Roy Morejon:                    Awesome. Where is next? What are you guys doing after this one?

Joe Hollier:                       Our heads are definitely pretty focused around making sure we execute this Light Phone II perfectly, but I think there’s a lot of other pieces that can make the experience more seamless. One side of that is becoming an MVNO or a carrier rather so that when you buy The Light Phone, we could also provide your service behind The Light Phone if you’re interested. I think that would really complete the full light experience and allow someone to really get away from the smartphone ecosystem if they so choose. That’s one plan to support The Life Phone. We also have a lot of ideas for accessories or docks that might enhance The Light Phone for specific use cases. I think there’s a whole slew of product ideas we have that aren’t phones that would still be products that would support that going light experience. Those are super exciting to think about, but we need to always remind ourselves, “Focus and stay on-track with getting this one right.”

Roy Morejon:                    Awesome. Well, Joe, this gets us into our launch round where I’m gonna rapid-fire a handful of questions at you. You’re good to go?

Joe Hollier:                        Yup, ready.

Roy Morejon:                    What inspired you to go light and become an entrepreneur?

Joe Hollier:                        I think it happened really organically, I fell in love with the project and making the business with a [inaudible 00:18:43] and to bring that project to real life. But, I think it has to be something you truly love. If you’re starting a business for business’ sake, I don’t think that can work sustainably long-term.

Roy Morejon:                    Absolutely. If you were to grab a beer with any entrepreneur throughout history, who would it be?

Joe Hollier:                        Oh, wow, that’s a good one. I think Steve Jobs just because there’s so many different sides of the character that I’ve heard about from so many different people. I’d love to hear what he thought of The Light Phone.

Roy Morejon:                    That would’ve been your first question?

Joe Hollier:                        I think I would just really ask him about The Light Phone or ask him about what he thinks of the iPhone now. I think, being around for over a decade, does he have any regrets?

Roy Morejon:                    Absolutely. What’s your favorite book?

Joe Hollier:                        My favorite book right now is “The Book” by Alan Watts [inaudible 00:19:35]

Roy Morejon:                    That seems to simple but perfect for your life, right?

Joe Hollier:                        Yeah.

Roy Morejon:                    Favorite destination to travel to?

Joe Hollier:                        Right now, I’ve been going up to Los Angeles a lot mostly because I have friends, the weather’s perfect, and the skateboarding is excellent.

Roy Morejon:                    Awesome. Last question, Joe. What does the future of crowdfunding look like?

Joe Hollier:                        I think it’s in a pretty amazing place right now, the fact that individuals are able to launch things, but I think that we’ll see more maybe specific platforms over time harnessing communities of like-minded people, whether that’s for technology hardware, where we’re in, or the artful world, or musicians. I wanna see crowdfunding taken to the further extent than just maybe the tech world that you see most commonly.

Roy Morejon:                    Absolutely. Well, Joe, this has been awesome. Please, give our audience your pitch. Tell them what you’re all about, where people should go, and why they should check you out.

Joe Hollier:                        Kaiwei and I, we’re building Light. It’s a radically different technology company. We hope that we’re creating a refreshing alternative to the smartphone and technology monopolies that exist right now. We started with The Light Phone I, we’re introducing The Light Phone II. You can read about both of those phones at lightphone.com. We’re really here to pose interesting questions within the tech space. I think, so often, startups and smartphone apps try to solve all of our problems, whereas The Light Phone, we try to bring a lot of questions to the user. Now that you’re light, what do you want to do with your life? It’s really about a series of questions and not necessarily solving all the answers.

Roy Morejon:                    Indeed, this has been awesome. Audience, thanks again for tuning in. Make sure to visit artofthekickstart.com for all the notes, the transcript, links to the campaign, and everything we talked about today. Of course, thank you to our crowdfunding podcast sponsors, the Gadget Flow, and BackerKit. If you loved this episode as much as I do, leave us a review on iTunes. Joe, thank you so much for joining us today on Art of the Kickstart.

Joe Hollier:                        Appreciate it, Roy. Thanks, everyone.

Roy Morejon:                    Thanks for tuning in to another episode of Art of the Kickstart, the show about building a business, world, and life with crowdfunding. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, awesome, make sure to visit artofthekickstart.com and tell us all about it. There, you’ll find additional information about past episodes, a Kickstarter guide to crushing it. Of course, if you loved this episode a lot, leave us a review at artofthekickstart.com/itunes. It helps more inventors, entrepreneurs, and startups find this show. It helps us get better guests to help you build a better business. If you need more hands-on crowdfunding strategy advice, please feel free to request a quote on enventyspartners.com. Thanks again for tuning in and we’ll see you again next week.